Introduction: Paper People

Picture of Paper People

Here is a charming, low tech way to amuse yourself during your next natural disaster, power outage or zombie apocalypse.  It may also work to keep small children quietly entertained during family visits this holiday season.  

Paper people are easy to make and customize.  You can quickly put together a complete family.  You can your child can make monsters and fight them in the arena of your coffee table.  Or you can create a race of enlightened aliens or robots and build a new utopia.  You can make characters to star in your next video production.

Lets go!

Step 1: Level 1 - Make a Blank

Picture of Level 1 - Make a Blank

To start, make a blank person to see how all of the parts fit together.

  1. Print out, or copy the design sheet onto card stock.  
[ Edit ~  Apparently the design template image lost some detail when I uploaded it.  Here's a link to (hopefully) unaltered template page: ]

  1. Cut out the body first. (it looks like conjoined twins)  Don't cut the notches yet.
  2. Fold the body piece in half.  You can glue, or tape it together to make it more sturdy, if you like.  Its not necessary.
  3. Cut out a set of arms, a set of legs, and a head.  (There are two styles of arms.  Try em both!)
  4. Cut your notches inside the guidelines.  If you are using thicker card stock, cut wider notches.
  5. Assemble the pieces as shown in the pictures
  6. Say hello to your new friend!  "Hello Tabula Rasa"

* Some notes. *

Notice that the "chin" is actually the "nose".  And it starts at the top of the forehead.

Notice that the chest overlaps the hips in front. 

You don't need dark outlines. Unless you really want to. You can print this design sheet very faintly and still have guidelines for cutting and embellishing.  

Heavier stock will make a sturdier person, but it will be harder to cut out.  I tried using corrugated cardboard in one version, but I didn't like the way that the edges looked unfinished.

Make the notches very thin to start.  Cut them very narrow to start and make them wider if you can't get a good fit.  (its easier to cut away more than to put back paper you cut off.)

** Extra Bonus Note! **

"Tabula Rasa" is the idea, developed by Aristotle, that people are born without personality, talent or knowledge.  That their brains are effectively a "blank slate".  Tabula Rasa means blank slate in Latin.

Step 2: Level 2 - Give Your Person a Personality

Picture of Level 2 - Give Your Person a Personality

Now that you have seen how the design works, you can start making the kind of people you would want to have as friends.

Using the design as a guide, you can add features to the head, arms and leg components.  I have made a set of Cthulhu parts and a set of robot parts and an extra calavera skull.  

Its a good idea to sketch out your ideas on the design sheet before you start cutting them out.  These pieces are just the starting point for your imagination.  You can add extra elements. 

Notice that  I added wings to the shoulders of my Cthulhu.  I added flower "hair" to the skull, and tentacles and horns to the face of the monster.  

I did not add anything to the body pieces.  They are still blank for now.  Look at the photograph to see how these characters appear from the sides.   On your friends, you could trim back the nose pieces, or add extra designs to them.

Step 3: Level 4 - Swap Meet

Picture of Level 4 - Swap Meet

Now you can live out your dream of being an evil-genius/mad-scientist in a secret underground laboratory.  Why not tinker with your creations?

One of the great things about this design is that you can totally mix and match body parts.  You have extra heads and arms and legs.  Use them to make insane cybernetic gods that will trample all of your enemies.

Step 4: Bonus - Extra Ideas for Parents!

Picture of Bonus - Extra Ideas for Parents!

These paper dolls take up very little space.  Keep an envelope of cut out body parts in your bag.  Break them out at restaurants for the kids to play with while they are waiting for food to be served.   Have some blanks for the kids to color on, and have some that already have faces, or wings, or tentacles.

Keep some blank design sheets on hand for rainy days and power outages.  Challenge the kids to make creatures for each other.  Tell them to make up stories for the characters they design.  Take pictures of the scenes, and use the pictures to decorate books of their stories.

Step 5: Bonus - Embellishment Ideas

Picture of Bonus - Embellishment Ideas

I intentionally left my paper people pretty simple so that you could see how they fit together.  I only used one pen on each piece, and I didn't use any glue or paint or additional material.

But here are some ideas for you to make your people more awesome.

colored stock
googly eyes
tempura paint
cereal / cracker / cookie boxes
playing cards (use the face cards for faces!)
photographs (use real faces for faces!)

Step 6: Bonus! Activities

Picture of Bonus! Activities
Here are some ideas for things that you can do with your new friends once you have created them.
  • Make a family 
  • Make an army 
  • Make a (modest) tic-tac-toe set, or (ambitious) chess set
  • Use them as place setting markers
  • Use them as voodoo dolls or burn them in effigy 
  • Give them a cat toys
  • Christmas Cards
  • Valentines
  • Dioramas and historical reenactment
  • Actors in short films and videos
Do you have other ideas?  Post them in the comments!


Howto246 (author)2015-03-26

thx love the idea

Gilly (author)2014-12-02

This is SO good! My grandsons will love this when they next visit. Thank you.

ianbates1 (author)2014-07-10

This is brilliant.

kracken42 (author)2014-04-19

Amazing. I shall make a paper Kraken. Thank you for this great idea.

Falcons_Art_Dept (author)2013-12-02

Paper People 2013 style

Bitsi (author)Falcons_Art_Dept2013-12-03

These are wonderful! Love Jason, Iron Man and Harleyquin. :-)

Falcons_Art_Dept (author)Bitsi2013-12-03

Harlequin is actually Lady Ga Ga! Glad you like them!

Bitsi (author)Falcons_Art_Dept2013-12-03

Haha. I guess I'm not too hip. Anyway, the student did a nice job altering her arms and legs.

Falcons_Art_Dept (author)2013-12-02

Falcons Art Department present Paper people 2013 style..

Falcons_Art_Dept (author)2012-12-07

These are made by students of saddle Brook High School

Oh these turned out wicked cool!! I had campers make them this summer, they turned out well (but alas I did not get pictures). My 4th graders are dying to make them this year, I'll have to share what your class did!

Bitsi (author)2012-12-07

Wow! So cool.
Did you make an extra flap for a stand for them?

Falcons_Art_Dept (author)Bitsi2012-12-07

No, they are just glued onto card scraps.

poofrabbit (author)2012-12-06

Here are some more to share with ya. :) Today I had a brilliant idea to use this concept, I just love these little guys!

Bitsi (author)poofrabbit2012-12-06

Love the minotaur. I can see that you are really into that greek mythology.

How did you get Atlas to hold the world on his shoulders?

poofrabbit (author)Bitsi2012-12-06

Here is the drawing before I inked.

Bitsi (author)poofrabbit2012-12-07

That's brilliant!

poofrabbit (author)Bitsi2012-12-06

Mythology is a common core standard for 4th grade, so I'm working towards a project for them. :) As for Atlas, I used your basic arm shape, the one that has the arms face up, then created a circle. I slightly bent the cardstock to cut out a triangle then cut out around the inside leaving it one piece. :)

poofrabbit (author)2012-11-29

So I need to figure out how to do a cape, any ideas?  I also realized I need to elongate his legs more.....clearly I haven't finished this, but as I was working on it and brain storming ideas for capes I thought I should see if you had any ideas about it. :)

Bitsi (author)poofrabbit2012-11-30

I like him!

Do you have trouble stabilizing the legs when you space them apart like that?

Regarding his cape, maybe you could make an extra piece, that curves up from the shoulder slot and bend it to the ground? It might give you extra stability too. (I was thinking of trying that to make wings for a Doctor Who inspired "weeping angel". :-)

poofrabbit (author)Bitsi2012-12-05

I am at work, but I'll get a better picture later. I'm not completely happy with batman's cape, but it's getting there. These are addictive and I'm almost done with my lesson plan to use this project. :)

poofrabbit (author)Bitsi2012-11-30

Nope no issue with the legs, what I did do was make the cut go up the body more for the leg slot, that helped. I did really push it with Batman I will admit.

Good idea bout the cape, I'll play around with it. Oh you so should make a weeping angel and share pics!

Bitsi (author)2012-11-30

I started an album for the paper people that get posted here. Its over on my facebook page:

poofrabbit (author)2012-11-29

I had to show you my first attempt, I was playing around with this during my planning period today. :)

Bitsi (author)poofrabbit2012-11-29

Too cool! I like it that you changed up the body and arms. and I love the snakey hair!

poofrabbit (author)Bitsi2012-11-29

Thanks I basically used your forms and lightly traced them onto card stock with a pencil then embellished or took away. Hit it with sharpy and cut. :) Then added color, this I can see is ADDICTIVE, because oh yes I'm sitting at home now making more. :) I'm also lesson planning, my students are so going to eat this up!

Jayefuu (author)2012-11-24

Very clever, they look like fun :D

Bitsi (author)Jayefuu2012-11-25

I have been having a lot of fun making them.

Jayefuu (author)Bitsi2012-11-25

Nativity version next with a new design for the sheep/donkey?

Bitsi (author)Jayefuu2012-11-25

Ha. Good idea. I'm not religious though, and I would probably offend someone by body-swapping the wise men with the Madonna and the sheep.

I was thinking castle, with knights and kings and queens and jesters.

poofrabbit (author)Bitsi2012-11-26

You could make a really cool chess set with them! the possibilities are endless! Love this!

Bitsi (author)poofrabbit2012-11-27

I like the idea of book characters! I've done Cthulhu. I should do Sherlock Holmes.

poofrabbit (author)Bitsi2012-11-27

Oh yes! That would be fantastic!!!

Jayefuu (author)Bitsi2012-11-25

"Ha. Good idea. I'm not religious though," - Me neither, but I bet a lot of people would like a nativity that they could print and draw with their kids. Would probably get a lot of views.

The castle idea sounds good :D

dismissie (author)2012-11-27

This is such a great instructable- thank you!

gumcrazy (author)2012-11-26

Really fantastic idea! thank you for sharing it with all of us!

Bitsi (author)gumcrazy2012-11-26

Thank you. It so cool that people are enjoying it.

monsterlego (author)2012-11-25

Forget kids, i want to do this

Bitsi (author)monsterlego2012-11-26

Let me know what you make! :-)

ClareBS (author)2012-11-26

Excellent instructable. Clever, cute and clearly explained. Something anyone could do and everyone will want to make. Thanks.

Bitsi (author)ClareBS2012-11-26

Thanks for your kind words.

CaseyCase (author)2012-11-24

This is a really fun instructable. Thank you for spending the time sharing it with us!

Bitsi (author)CaseyCase2012-11-25

Thanks. I appreciate it. :-)

poofrabbit (author)2012-11-23

Very neat idea! I'm going to play around with this idea for one of my classes. :)

Bitsi (author)poofrabbit2012-11-23

I would love to see what your kids make.

poofrabbit (author)Bitsi2012-11-23

I promise to take pictures and share :)

About This Instructable




Bio: I teach computer science and I do graphic design for printed bags, clothing, housewares, and much more. (, and ...
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